Commentary

Marketing Isn't Dead. It Needs A New Agenda

The hyperconnectivity and upending of power relationships wrought by social media have led to inverted purchase funnels, broken models and questions over the relevance of the marketing function. While cracking the social media equation is near the top of every CMO’s "to do" list, unfortunately, this focus misses the mark.

The fact is that marketing isn’t broken. It just requires a bigger and different agenda -- one that promises greater transformational consequences and implies further broadening of marketing roles. At its heart, the shift is not about how media has changed, but rather, how the tenets of brand-building itself have advanced. Success lies in moving beyond the focal points of yesterday’s marketing agenda -- beyond communications, beyond consistency and yes, beyond customers too -- to embrace three new rules.

1.  Beyond communications: don’t just say something, be something

What portion of a marketer’s day is spent crafting messages and choosing media, versus actually innovating the brand experience itself? Success comes from flipping the focus and spending as much energy on designing experiences as disseminating messages. The challenges are many, and it’s much easier to stay in one place and run the message factory.

In a recent rebranding campaign, a big-box retailer recreated its slogan to focus on putting money back into its customer’s wallets. But behind this message, marketing leadership spearheading experience initiatives catalyzed a rethink of the brand itself: a redesign of all U.S. stores, a revitalized grocery department and a significant expansion of name brand offerings. The retailer also debuted breakthrough offers such as a low-cost prescription program. It was the magnitude of these changes that turbo-charged the increase in media spend, backing the promise with the delivery of new experiences. 

2. Beyond consistency: embody both the True and the New

The second rule is built on a paradox: the strongest brands embody the seemingly opposite traits of authenticity and vitality. They are anchored by familiar and trustworthy images, while perpetually breaking through the clutter as "new news."   

For instance, one multinational coffeehouse masters this duality by going well beyond the "brand book." Anchored in the timeless idea of "moments of connection," its chain creates a sense of vitality by "enabling variation," all the while "keeping the standard." Among the company’s 17,000 stores, no two are exactly the same, yet all use a flexible and immersive design palate that makes them identifiably a part of the brand. Each of 106,000 employees showcases an individual personality, but all participate in common ritual. The brand is both infinitely varied and singularly consistent.

3. Beyond customers: internal purpose drives external promise

No longer able to rely on just communications professionals to create and control brand image, the role of marketing is expanding -- becoming the catalyst of a highly energetic employee base that believes in a bigger mission and has the tools and incentives to deliver.

A global innovation company recognized this and launched an initiative to re-energize its brand story with the goal of unifying its 84,000 decentralized employees. They have a powerful story -- every five years the company aims to have almost a third of its revenue come from new inventions. Recent branding efforts focused on the internal rallying cry to celebrate the company’s unifying purpose of making progress possible. This inspired employees in their shared purpose and then encouraged those tens of thousands of global employees to do the work of bringing the brand to life.

Marketing isn’t dead -- the frame just needs to change. Whereas yesterday’s marketing was about creating a position in the mind of the consumers through consistent communications, the brand leaders of tomorrow foster memorable experiences that connect the enduring with the novel and give way to an entire corps of brand-builders, as numerous as employees themselves.